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Laquetta Jenkins, a North Charleston resident, recently had storm repairs done to her house after Hurricane Matthew to come home to changed locks and cots from the work crew sleeping in her house. She recently was able to get back into her home to a broken stove and holes in her walls. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

The first indication Laquetta Jenkins got that strangers were sleeping in her home came from the neighbors. 

Jenkins' one-story brick house, tucked in a small North Charleston neighborhood just north of the Air Force Base on Dorchester Road, was damaged in a storm in 2015 when a tree caved in her roof and let water inside. It wasn't until this year that a federal grant paid for workers to fix the problem.

In late May, Jenkins, her daughter, and grandchild moved out and were told the work would be complete in four to six weeks. They put some, but not all, of their personal items in a storage container in the front yard.

The company in charge of the project, Yates Construction, changed the locks — something they say is a best practice for such home repair projects, because it protects workers' equipment and shields homeowners from getting injured on an active work site. 

But by June, Jenkins' neighbors started telling her that a construction company's truck remained on her property overnight. Neighbors said it didn't seem as if the workers, who were employed by a subcontractor, were doing many repairs. 

Finally, her daughter visited the home, peeked in a back window, and saw an inflatable mattress covered with a blanket and a man's pair of work boots. 

"I'm still paying my bills (for them to live in my house)," Jenkins said. "It's just crazy to me."

A few days later, on June 23, Jenkins and her daughter came back to the house again and found it empty, with the back door ajar. They walked inside and found multiple air mattresses, covered in Jenkins' linens; a large boom box; and a foreign bottle of Old Spice in the shower. In a police report from later that day, a North Charleston police officer also said he found "multiple makeshift beds."

When five workers returned from a different job that evening, they told the officer that they were allowed to be on premises, showing him a contract Jenkins had signed. Police advised Jenkins "it was a civil issue."

Laquetta Jenkins_1.jpg

Laquetta Jenkins, a North Charleston resident, recently had storm repairs done to her house after Hurricane Matthew to come home to changed locks and cots from the work crew sleeping in her house. She recently was able to get back into her home to a broken stove and holes in her walls. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

'Something like you'd see on TV'

"Oh, that's insane," attorney John Chakeris said when The Post and Courier told him about Jenkins' situation. 

Chakeris has brought several lawsuits over construction defects and said it's important for a homeowner to be able to access the residence during work, so that they can inspect the progress for themselves. But he said he'd never heard of a crew sleeping inside a home they were working on. 

He also reviewed the contract Jenkins signed, which says homeowner access to their property will be restricted during work. It doesn't leave any room for workers to stay there, Chakeris said.

"What you’re describing is something like you’d see on TV," said Chakeris, who originally spoke to the paper in July and began representing Jenkins since then. "I get a lot of calls all the time, and I've never gotten anything close to that in 25 years of doing this kind of work."

The state office handling Jenkins' grant and Yates Construction said that the crew working at the home, employed by Ed Gund Construction LLC, were promptly fired after Jenkins reported they were sleeping in her house. 

"That was the first house they had worked on. We got the complaint, we asked that they be removed from the project and they were gone," said Kenny Bush, a spokesman for Yates. 

Jenkins disputes that. She said that, in a phone call on July 22, one of Yates' managers told her about a new issue: her house had been vandalized. Workers already painted over the writing on an interior wall of her house by the time of the call. 

Jenkins said she asked whether the fired work crew might have defaced her home in retribution. But the manager from Yates told her that was unlikely. While they'd been reprimanded for sleeping over, they were still working on her house, Jenkins said she was told.

Bush could not be reached in a follow-up call to confirm or deny Jenkins' account.

Contractors

While Yates Construction said this was the only case where this subcontractor was used, it's unclear whether Ed Gund Construction worked on any other storm-damaged homes in South Carolina. 

That's because of a complicated web of contractors were used to do the HUD-funded repair work.

HUD's Disaster Recovery program is aimed at low- and middle-income homeowners without flood insurance, and it can take years for the money to reach affected people

While South Carolina's Disaster Recovery Office disperses the funds, that state office used an "administrative contractor" to hire a construction company: Yates. Yates had a contractor of its own, Louisiana-based FCA Construction. 

FCA's website says it was founded after floods devastated Louisiana in 2016. A listing for the company on Equity Net, a website aimed at attracting investors for new businesses, said the company worked exclusively on federal disaster repair programs. 

It was FCA that chose the workers with Ed Gund, who ended up at Jenkins' house. Calls to FCA offices in Lafayette, La., New Orleans and an employee in South Carolina were not returned, so it's unclear whether FCA used workers from Ed Gund for another project.

Ed Gund is based in Marion, Ill., and also has operations in Florida. It is not registered to do business in South Carolina. Several calls to that company were not returned.

Meanwhile, Laquetta Jenkins was finally allowed back into her home on Aug 2. Her locks were changed back, but she said she's planning on changing them again, when she has the money to do it.

She's is relieved to be back in her home. But the family has been rattled by the episode.

When workmen came to check on her air conditioner recently, Jenkins' daughter refused to let them inside.

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Reach Chloe Johnson at 843-735-9985. Follow her on Twitter @_ChloeAJ.

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